Well, I’m exhausted. In the last 24 hours I have travelled from Paderborn, through Bielefeld, Hanover and Berlin, had a two-hour stopover in Berlin, through Dresden and Prague and now I’m waiting in Vienna Hauptbahnhof for a train to finally get back home.
And all that travelling? A total of 15 super fun hours by bus.
Paderborn – Berlin
To be completely honest, it wasn’t as bad as I originally expected. I travelled with FlixBus and their coaches are actually fairly comfortable. My 5.5-hour journey from Paderborn to Berlin came with free WiFi and plug sockets, as well as the option to be able to get food and drinks onboard (at a charge, of course). The seats on the coaches are pretty comfy as bus seats go and I was impressed by the cleanliness, as well as by the demeanour of the drivers.
The one thing that was a little odd was the placement of the reading lights above the seats (although, in the grand scheme of things, not really a huge issue). The reading lights aren’t actually placed in an area that is particularly conducive to, well, reading. At the time, I was reading David Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web (a continuation to Larsson’s Millenium series and well worth a read!) and the reading light was placed more to light up the back of the hair of the girl sat in front of me than the pages of my book. After sitting in a slightly strange position perched on the edge of my seat to get the light I gave up and had a nap instead.
Berlin ZOB (Central Bus Station)
Berlin ZOB (aka Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof, or Central Bus Station) is located a little way out of the centre of Berlin but is still easily accessible by public transport. I only had a two-hour stopover so didn’t need to leave the station, but a week earlier I flew into Berlin so gained a little experience into the Berlin public transport system. All-in-all, not bad, although (like some London underground stations) not amazingly helpful when lugging a large suitcase around (or for anyone in a wheelchair) as they aren’t all accessible by lift.
When I was on my little jaunt around Berlin there was snow everywhere. It was no longer snowing and, in fact, wasn’t particularly cold, but the snow underfoot was slushy and made pulling a suitcase along slightly more complex than it should have been. Suitcase in snow? Impossible. Suitcase on a gritted pavement? Well, that just means the grit gets stuck in the wheels and, therefore, the wheels stop turning.
I really, really hated my suitcase by the end of that day.
Berlin ZOB is located near to U-Bahn station Kaiserdamm (U2) and to Messe-Nord/ICC (S41/S42) and is about a two-minute walk from Kaiserdamm. Make sure you get there early enough! (I didn’t one time… I won’t be making that mistake again! Germans like their buses to leave very promptly.) Just get a “Kurzstrecke” ticket (€1.10 if I remember correctly) if you’re heading directly there.
The bus station itself is fairly underwhelming, which is quite disappointing considering what a major terminal it is. There are two small shops, one outside the terminal building with a little café area inside that also sells a nice selection of souvenirs (last minute gifts, anyone?) and one inside the terminal building that just stocks snacks, drinks, magazines and newspapers and also does some hot food (but nothing substantial). I found it easier to get my ticket inside the bus terminal at the ZOB ticket office, rather than going to the individual bus company ticket offices. Alternatively (and probably a better plan, although the prices are often identical) you can buy your ticket online.
A whole load of bus companies operate from/to/through Berlin ZOB, including but not limited to Eurolines, FlixBus/MeinFernBus, BerlinLinienBus and Postbus. If you’re curious, find out more here (in German, but easy to figure out with destinations and relevant available coach operators). On my two-hour stopover in Berlin, I saw buses heading for Amsterdam, Paris and Zürich, one destined to the not-very-specific “Poland and Russia” and many more to various German cities, including Cologne, Hamburg and Munich.
With this amount of destinations and coaches and consequently the sheer foot traffic (9 million passengers in 2014 [source][/source]) going through the station, I was surprised by the lack of innovation in regards to retail and gastronomy. Just comparing it to Berlin Hauptbahnhof with its multitude of stores and eateries (17 “fashion and jewellery” stores alone and 27 restaurants and bakeries) the bus station is a little… lacking. Even the McDonald’s is just a window where you order (with a very limited menu) and doesn’t even have a seating area.
I feel they’re really missing out on an opportunity here and would quite like to do some market research into the matter. Maybe that’ll be my next project…
Berlin – Vienna
My bus eventually arrived and I could escape the tedium of the bus station, with its non-substantial seating area and lack of eateries (probably saved me money, though…).
I didn’t actually know until they announced it but my bus to Vienna was going there via Prague (and Dresden, but that’s less interesting). It makes total sense when you look at Berlin and Vienna on a map, but I hadn’t actually realised I’d be “visiting” the Czech Republic on my way home.
The bus was pretty much identical to the one before, apart from the fact there were more passengers on this one and it was also a double-decker. Well, that was exciting.
And guess who got a seat right at the front of the top level like an excited child? Yes, that would be me. Twenty-year-old, supposed-to-be mature me.
Since the bus departed at 23:15 and arrived at Vienna Erdberg (the main bus station in Vienna) at 08:20, this bus was bedtime. Once again, the bus was fairly comfy and had plug sockets and free WiFi (which I couldn’t get to work, but since I planned on sleeping most of the journey this wasn’t exactly much of an issue) and was overall a good journey, apart from a man who spent almost the entire first THREE HOURS of the journey on the phone and a small child who cried a lot.
I ended up waking up as we were driving through the Czech Republic on our approach to Prague and I’m really glad I did. Why? SNOW!
I’m always surprised when buses and other public transport copes perfectly fine with snow and ice since in the UK we are totally inept at dealing with it.
UK: OMG! A few millimetres of snow! Cancel all public transport and close schools!
Germany/Czech Republic/Austria etc: Snow? *wears snow boots and goes about life as normal*
It made for a beautiful landscape, though, since it was about 03:00 and we were driving through a landscape that was predominantly, well, fields.
After snapping a few (fairly awful) photos, it was back to sleep before waking up to a gorgeous sunrise as we approached Vienna.
Probably one of the better coach companies I’ve travelled with. Fairly comfortable seats, free WiFi and plug sockets at the seats. Free 3x luggage and 1x hand luggage. I would recommend over BerlinLinienBus (who also charge extra for luggage!!). They also have a neat app where you can buy tickets and retrieve purchased tickets (with the option to add them to Passport on iPhone).
Also fairly cheap at €44 (for one adult, no discounts) from Paderborn to Vienna via Berlin, which is pretty good for a 1,120km journey! A similar (but more direct, via Nuremberg instead) journey by car would cost approximately €33 for fuel alone, not taking into account wear and tear/insurance/tax, car hire if it’s not your own car and the enjoyment of driving for about 9.5 hours in total.
Berlin ZOB: 2/5
Disappointing. Not much to do, not much to buy and doesn’t have a substantial waiting area. Nice souvenir shop, though, and staff at the ZOB ticket office are helpful and friendly. No free WiFi in the terminal itself but you can access the ibis WiFi from the nearby hotel.